NZ's Foodstuffs pulls Australian strawberries off shelves over needle sabotage

15:57 | 20/09/2018 Global Economy

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has ordered the food safety watchdog to investigate Queensland's handling of the strawberry spiking saga.

Strawberry punnets are seen at a supermarket in Sydney, Australia - Photo: AAP

Fears over needles secreted in strawberries have now spilled across the Tasman, with one of New Zealand's two major food distributors taking the fruit off its shelves as a precaution.

Police are investigating after metal pins were found in punnets of fruit in five different states.

"We have also tasked the federal agency to investigate whether there are supply chain weaknesses, whether there are actions that we can take to assist the police, whether there are systemic changes which are required," Mr Hunt told the ABC on Monday.

"At the end of the day, the job is very, very clear. Protect the public and keep them safe."

Mr Hunt said the "vicious crime" was not only designed to injure or kill members of the public, it was also an attack on the agricultural sector.

Foodstuffs - which supplies various chains that make up about half of New Zealand's grocery store market - in a statement on Monday said it had stopped shipping Australian strawberries to its stores.

While none of its products had been affected by the major recall in Australia, it had brought the freeze in to reassure customers.

New Zealand imports the fruit from Australia when it's out of season, from April to September.

The announcement comes as needles were found inserted into more strawberries in South Australia and NSW over the weekend, adding to incidents across the country and prompting fears of copycat behaviour.

The discovery came as Coles and Aldi supermarkets pulled all strawberries from their shelves, except Western Australia, as a precaution.

Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Berries have recalled their strawberries nationwide.

A health warning to throw out or cut up strawberries remains in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Nationals frontbencher Andrew Broad has blasted the culprits inserting needles into strawberries as "low-life scum".

The Victorian farmer says anyone who's been sabotaging strawberries should face jail time.

"The low-life scum who think it's somehow funny to chuck needles in strawberries I think should be chucked in jail as soon as they're identified," Mr Broad said.

Tasmania police are also investigating the possible contamination of a punnet bought at a Woolworths in Hobart.

Theo sbs.com.au